Over the past few seasons, while the fashion world has openly re-embraced several tenants of the ’90s (minimalistic silhouettes are back in our good graces, as are bare midriffs, tough-guy plaids, and baby doll dresses and boots, as evidenced by the most recent Raf Simons and Saint Laurent shows, among others), the design world has found itself in a riotously patterned 1980s renaissance—with a special emphasis on the glory that was Memphis. And though we’ve absolutely enjoyed the ’80s ride, at this point, we’re pretty sure the ’90s design refresh is also just around the corner.
After all, in addition to the decade’s essentialist, often biomorphic, experimental forms (a direct response to the over-the-top 80s), the ’90s saw the rise of the independent designer-producer. The likes of Ron Arad, Tom Dixon, Marc Newson, the Campana brothers, and several others who are now household design names debuted internationally thanks, in large part to the efforts of a select group of key manufacturers led by visionary creative directors (and incredible talent scouts) such as Giuilio Cappellini, Patrizia Moroso, and others. These designers, who’d previously worked outside the traditional manufacturing universe—often with unorthodox materials and processes—now found themselves with the support of major brands. And the design celebrity (as much as there’s ever been one) was born.
And we’re not the only ones who think so. During a recent conversation, Mr. Cappellini told us, “The 90s represented for sure a crucial moment in the evolution of contemporary design. Yes, at the moment there is great attention on the ’80s and the Memphis phenomenon, but we will shortly relate to the nineties as a period in which designers worked—often as outsiders—by presenting their products with organic and unusual shapes and extraordinary colors.”
In anticipation of the next “it” era comeback, we’re highlighting a few of the decade’s most iconic designs, for a proper review. Enjoy!
S Chair by Tom Dixon for Cappellini (1991)
The pioneering Dixon taught himself to weld and make furniture, and he also set up a shop and storefront in London during the ’80s for himself and other emerging designers. Cappellini championed Dixon’s work early on—as did upstart galleries like Themes & Variations—and Dixon worked with Cappellini to produce his S Chair. The famed piece features a sinuous steel frame covered in woven wicker, leather, and more.
Knotted Chair by Marcel Wanders (1996)
This small, lightweight seat married handcraft and industrial techniques. Wanders constructed a “thread” using aramid and carbon fibers, which were then knotted into the shape of a chair and hung to dry in a frame, “leaving the final form in the hands of gravity.” Today, this limited-edition beauty sits in the permanent collections of New York’s MoMA, Amsterdam’s , and London’s V&A.
Fiberglass Felt Chair by Marc Newson (1993)
Inspired by Japanese origami, the Australian designer elevated a flat piece of thick felt into curved masterpiece with his original Felt Chair in 1988. A few years later, he remade the chair with Cappellini using fiberglass.
Louis 20 by Philippe Starck for Vitra (1991)
Aeron Chair by Bill Stumpf and Don Chadwick for Herman Miller (1994)
During the early ’90s, as more people began using computers in their day to day (hello world wide web!) and average, seated office hours increased, Stumpf and Chadwick designed a chair to properly support our new habits. The duo conducted extensive consumer testing prior to debuting the adaptable and ergonomic Aeron for Herman Miller. The resulting task chair helped make the workday far more comfortable—and therefore productive—for people of all shapes and sizes. And its form—stripped down, biomorphic—was a game changer. As Stumpf noted, “The human form has no straight lines”. . . and neither does his chair.
Air Chair by Jasper Morrison for Magis (1999)
Air Chair for was one of the first instances when gas-injection technology was applied to furniture. The result was minimalistic, lightweight, stylish, and stackable—and it introduced a new level of quality to the one-piece plastic chair. As Morrison has said, “Previously, plastic chairs were only possible with single wall thicknesses and reinforcing ribs. The gas-injection technology allowed for continuously smooth surfaces."
Soft Heart by Ron Arad for Moroso (1990)
Beginning in the ’80s, Arad produced sculptural furniture out of unexpected materials—quite often, rugged metals like aluminum and steel. In the early 1990s, working with the Italian manufacturer Moroso (and creative director Patrizia Moroso), Arad realized some of his earlier, signature metal pieces—including Soft Heart—in mass-manufactured, upholstered fabrics, adding a layer of accessibility to some of his most dramatic works.
Anna CarnickAnna is Pamono’s Managing Editor. Her writing has appeared in several arts and culture publications, and she's edited over 20 books. Anna loves celebrating great artists, and seriously enjoys a good picnic.
Wava CarpenterAfter studying Design History, Wava has worn many hats in support of design culture: teaching design studies, curating exhibitions, overseeing commissions, organizing talks, writing articles—all of which informs her work now as Pamono’s Editor-in-Chief.
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Moroso Lowseat, Patricia Urquiola
Flying Carpet Sofa by Ilkka Suppanen for Cappellini, 1990s
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Vintage Rover Chairs by Ron Arad for OneOff, Set of 2
Vintage Rover Chair by Ron Arad for OneOff Ltd.
Fjord Stools by Patricia Urquiola for Moroso, 2002, Set of 3
Big Spirale 38 Table by Ron Arad, 1995
Favela Chair by Fernando & Humberto Campana for Edra, 2003
Vintage Italian Futuro Chaise Lounge by Massimo Iosa Ghin for Moroso
Rocking Chair by Ron Arad for One/Off
Vintage Soft Two-Seater Easy Sofa by Ron Arad for Moroso
Vintage Soft Heart Rocking Chair by Ron Arad for Moroso
British Tree Floor Lamp by Ron Arad for On Off Ltd., 1980s
Estela Floor Lamp by Fernando & Humberto Campana for Oluce, 1997
Estela Table Light by Fernando & Humberto Campana for Oluce, 1997
Carpet by Jasper Morrison for Cappellini, 1990s
Dinamic Velox Chairs by Massimo Iosa-Ghini for Moroso, 1987, Set of 2
Little Victoria & Albert Collection Chairs by Ron Arad for Moroso, Set of 3
Adjustable Noe Lounge Chair by Ammanati and Vitelli for Moroso, 1980s
Italian Club Lounge Chairs from Moroso, 1993, Set of 2
French Rattan & Iron Chairs by Tom Dixon, 1970s, Set of 4
Gluon Chair by Marc Newson for Moroso, 1994
Club Chair by Patricia Urquiola for Moroso, 1990s
Cone Chair by Campana Brothers for Edra, 1997
Victoria and Albert Chairs by Ron Arad for Moroso, 2000, Set of 2
Little Albert Lounge Chair by Ron Arad for Moroso
Indoor Little Albert Lounge Chairs by Ron Arad for Moroso, Set of 2
S Chair by Tom Dixon for Cappellini, 1988
Gluon Chair and Ottoman by Marc Newson for Moroso, 1993
Gello Tables by Marc Newson for 3 Suisses, Set of 2
Boa Sofa by F.E.H Campana for Edra
Take a Line For a Walk Chair by Alfredo Häberli for Moroso
Cadeira Flama by Fernando and Humberto Campana, 1980s
Large Murano Glass Chandelier by Angello Cappellini, 1958
Limited Edition Aluminum Tom Vac Chair by Ron Arad
Three Skin Chairs by Ron Arad for Moroso, 2004, Set of 6
Yellow WL&T Chair by Marc Newson, 1996
Japanese Solaris Chest by Shiro Kuramata for Cappellini
Italian MT3 Rocking Chair by Ron Arad for Driade
Vintage Helice Floor Lamp by Marc Newson for Flos
Velox Lounge Chairs by Massimo Iosa Ghini for Moroso 1990, Set of 6
Carta Bench by Shigeru Ban for Cappellini, 1996
Empty Chair from the Aleph Collection by Ron Arad for Driade, 1990s